Scott McCartney writes about this year’s IdeaWorks study of award inventory, but the underlying work isn’t all that useful and I don’t think Scott does a good job of framing why. Some of Scott’s takeaways are true, others true ‘as far as they go’, and still others quite misleading.
Last May Scott covered the study as well.
The problems that I identified with the study last year remain.
- They’re just querying airline websites. As a result you get pretty big disparity between US Airways (‘the worst’) and Continental (‘in the top half’) even though they are dealing with virtually the exact same award availability as Star Alliance carriers. The US Airways website doesn’t show partner availability (yet), the Continental website does.
- Route selection bias. They handpicked 20 routes per airline, remember these are different routes for each airline. This isn’t like comparing American and United out of Chicago on routes where they have similar numbers of seats offered. Or comparing American and United on the JFK – Los Angeles route. This is picking different routes for each airline, and saying that they are somehow equivalent. Now they’ll say that picking ‘the busiest routes for each’ is somehow equivalent, but then you get…
- The Greyhound Road Rewards problem. Greyhound has a frequent rider program, every 10 bus rides gets you… a free bus ride. In other words, hardly an aspiration award that anyone wants. You may fly Delta from Atlanta to Detroit a lot, but then that doesn’t suggest at all that it’s the route you want to redeem your miels on as a reward for all those trips! Which brings us to…
- Partner flights are not considered. US Airways ir quite rightly quoted in the piece saying that their customers love to redeem their miles on international Star Alliance awards, rather than US Airways domestic flights, and they’re penalized for that in this study. Meanwhile, US Airways also suffers because…
- They’re looking primarily at domestic coach awards. Again, the Greyhound Road Rewards problem, this is a great thing for folks who want another bus trip or who want to earn a free Southwest Airlines ticket as a reward for flying Southwest Airlines (the ‘low cost carriers’ are said to fare especially well in the study). But if that’s not your goal, then the study tells you nothing that is useful to you. Meanwhile, in addition to premium cabin international partner awards, US Airways suffers on its own metal because they tend to have excellent, outstanding award availability in first class on their own flights. But the study isn’t looking at this. Now maybe I don’t want to redeem for US Airways first class from Los Angeles to Charlotte, but it’s sure great when you want to fly from a US Airways city to an international gateway, the first class domestic seat is basically ‘thrown in’ and US Airways can get you there — something that’s frequently not the case with United or Continental (or Delta).
- Calendar bias. They picked fourteen dates between June and October and check those dates during March and April. But different airlines make award seats available at different times, some tend to release seats early when schedules open, others release them much closer to departure. I give Delta Skymiles a really hard time on this blog for their award availability (and that of many of its partners), and rightly so I think, but Delta’s award availability is pretty decent last minute, their revenue management folks tend to hold back releasing award seats until late, very conservative not wanting to give up seats for awards that they might sell. I’d argue they are too conservative and that it speaks poorly of their abilities to predict loads if they really believe they need to do it. But it says little about award availability to check during a specific defined set of dates rather than to search broader sets of dates during a braoder period of time.
I’m also a bit skeptical of the methodology here when they (a) pick GOL as one of the airlines to test and (b) give GOL a 100%. Funny, they don’t include Brazilian carrier TAM in the equation, how did GOL weasle itself in and especially with such an unlikely result?
Now, I suppose this study is useful if it describes how you would actually use your miles:
- You want to fly domestic coach, and on your own airline’s ‘busiest routes’
- You will only look on an airline’s website, you will not do your own research or even call the airline
- You make your bookings in March for summer travel
If that’s the case, perhaps the results are valid, at least as far as they go, but I’m still skeptical about some of the outlier data points like GOL at 100% availability, Southwest at 99.3%, Singapore 90.7%, and Air Canada over 80%. These results almost have to be attributable to biases in the research design noted above.
But for anyone who wants to travel in international premium cabins, on partner airlines, or checks for award space either early or last minute, this study tells you absoltely nothing. And other than ‘someone is trying hard’ I really don’t get the continued news angle here.